DOROTHY HUNT FINLEY | 1920-2013

Dorothy Finley: 'A life well-lived' in Tucson community

2013-02-22T00:00:00Z 2013-02-22T07:56:18Z Dorothy Finley: 'A life well-lived' in Tucson communityTiffany Kjos Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Dorothy Hunt Finley, a retired educator and beer distributor who poured her considerable energy - and money - into dozens of community-minded Tucson causes, died Wednesday. She was 92.

Finley was involved in educational, charitable and economic development agencies, and is the namesake of the Dorothy H. Finley Space Exploratorium and Challenger Learning Center at the Pima Air and Space Museum. She is the only civilian to have a building named after her at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base - the Dorothy Finley Child Development Center.

Finley, who grew up in Cochise County, never dreamed she'd have such a broad influence.

"My parents were ranchers," she said in an interview in 2000. "I always thought I'd marry a rancher and work on the ranch."

Finley was fond of saying that her community was her home, and that she wanted to make it nice.

"I hope that the people I have come in contact with have a better life because of our relationship," she said.

Finley, her husband, Harold, and a partner bought the beer distributorship in 1948 in Fairbank, in Cochise County. It operated under the name Fairbank Distributing.

The Finleys bought out the partner a couple of years later and moved the company to Tombstone, and later Bisbee. In 1953 the couple moved to Tucson, bought a beer distributorship from Kalil Bottling Co. and renamed it Finley Distributing Co.

Finley turned to education and was a teacher and principal in the Tucson Unified School District for 30 years. After Harold died in 1983 she took the helm of Finley Distributing.

Finley, along with her son and business partner, Dr. John Finley, sold it to private investors in 2008 and she retired. It had 155 employees when it was sold.

The eldest of four children, Finley attributed her community-mindedness to her dad, John.

"My father was pretty strict about things," she said. "You never misrepresent or lie. You think about the good of the group. You think about the good of the community."

She was a skillful fundraiser, attending four to five committee meetings a day in her prime.

A list of Finley's affiliations runs around 90 entries. Among them are the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Tucson Economic Council, Pima County Juvenile Court, Arizona Historical Society, Tucson Urban League, the Arizona Theatre Co. and the University of Arizona Wildcat Club.

During her years in education, Finley was chairwoman of the TUSD Elementary School Principals and president of the Arizona Elementary School Administrators. Those roles helped propel her to a position on the Pima Community College Foundation Board and to co-found the Women's Studies Advisory Council at the UA.

Her life's dream was to be a physician - a dream her son ended up realizing - but as a woman that opportunity was not open to her, John Finley said.

"I think that's why she was very passionate about women's studies," he said.

Some of her most rewarding work was with children's organizations.

"They are greatly needed programs in our town, helping both children and adults, and they cross all economic levels in the city," she said.

She founded what is now known as Children's Museum Tucson and helped raise money for La Frontera Child Family Center, the American Diabetes Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

She chaired a $3 million capital campaign for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and helped bring in money for programs such as Goodwill Industries, March of Dimes and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

Her business and volunteer work earned Finley much recognition.

She received a "Celebrating Exceptional Women" award from Gov. Fife Symington in 1996. The YWCA named her Entrepreneur of the Year in 1987, and the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce honored her as Woman of the Year in 1989.

Finley was named among the top 100 private business owners in Arizona by Arthur Anderson in 1996. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the YWCA in 1999.

One of her biggest honors was the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award, which she traveled to the Pentagon to accept in 2004.

"That was a big deal. She was very proud of that," said her son.

Bruce Wright, associate vice president for University Research Parks at the UA, met Finley in 1978 and worked with her as part of the Greater Tucson Economic Council.

"She was an incredible mentor for a whole generation of us here in Tucson. She was especially committed to helping women enter the professional ranks," Wright said. "She left her mark all over the community."

Jane Amari, who came to Tucson in 1999 to be publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, met Finley at the Arizona Inn just a few days after she moved to town.

"Dorothy sort of adopted me. She decided she was going to take me under her wing, introduce me to everyone, explain what needed to be done," said Amari, who left the Star in 2005. "She was wonderful. She was a good friend."

Through all her successes, Finley remained humble.

"I don't see myself as being so outstanding," she said. "You just have to hold to your convictions."

Those convictions earned her a reputation for knowing the right people and accomplishing goals.

Nelba Chavez was a member with Finley of Las Doñas de Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson.

"She spoke her mind. If there was a problem, she confronted that problem - and I don't mean confronting in a negative way. I mean it in a really positive way because she had solutions and pushed you to work and make sure that you not only helped with finding solutions but that you helped implement them."

If you talked to Finley about an issue with an agency or business, she'd ask who was in charge.

"Then, right in front of you, she'd pick up the phone. And she did that with everyone. She was great at it because, guess what? She got action. People responded to her. She did it because of the common good, not because it was going to benefit Dorothy."

Gloria Corral, an assistant to Las Doñas, said Finley was generous with more than her time.

"She was such a giver. Sometimes we say, 'I wish I had money. I would help them out.' Well, she had the money and she would help everybody"

Bruce Dusenberry, CEO and president of Horizon Moving Systems, worked with Finley on various community-service activities but had contact with her primarily through her role as a founding member of the Davis-Monthan 50, which supports the Air Force base.

"She was difficult to say 'no' to," said Dusenberry, who called Finley "a force of nature."

"There's probably very little in Tucson that Dorothy didn't touch in some way," Dusenberry said, but "the airmen at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base were always her love."

Finley had a stroke several years ago but continued to attend meetings. Her health deteriorated over the last couple of years, so she moved into an assisted-living center. Her many friends continued to visit regularly until the end.

"Talk about a life well-lived. She packed so much into it," John Finley said. "Everybody was her buddy."

Finley is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Audrey, and grandchildren Jessica Finley of Denver and Alex Finley of St. Louis. Also surviving Finley are her brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Mary Hunt of Tucson, and nephews Thomas S. Hunt and John C. Hunt, also of Tucson.

Funeral services will be 1 p.m. March 1 at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church, 4440 N. Campbell Ave. In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make a donation to the charity of their choice.

On StarNet: See more photos of Dorothy Finley throughout her life at azstarnet.com/gallery

Contact Regional Editor Tiffany Kjos at tkjos@azstarnet.com or 807-7776.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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